Do I really need to tell you why this post is necessary? Facebook does not lend itself to the length required to persuade people of important issues, where they may have disagreed before.
1. Debate is argument, not conclusion
“A connected series of statements intended to form a proposition” is what Monty Python lets us know is the definition of argument. Two people saying “I believe X” and “I believe Y” do not have a discussion going on, because the basis for that belief is not shared and transferred.
Blogs, many paragraphs, papers, articles, and debates are all long enough to have many connected statements that form propositions. Each statement may be analyzed and discussed, so that an audience finds the conclusion (or doesn’t) as a necessary result of the premises.
Imagine if I had simply stated the headline here, and done nothing more. You might say “actually, debate is not argument alone, it includes conclusions” and dismiss this – but when you read the supportive sentences, you realize what I mean by the claim.
You’ll never persuade someone who doesn’t already share your conclusion by repeating your conclusion loudly. Instead, see point 3, which immediately follows point 2’s caution…
2. It becomes ad hominem, because it starts that way
People who have lifelong habits of great decision making have a pretty simple rule: remove “who’s opinion” something is from the equation. It’s why titles shouldn’t matter in a creative business unit – the best thought can come from anywhere.
In argument it’s much the same: we stand as third-party observers to information. But if we become first-party participants (“my information,” “my opinion,” “my argument,” “my idea”), suddenly when assailing the idea I am by proxy assailing you.
Facebook is YOUR wall. That means if you “win” an argument, it’s about you. If you “lose” an argument, it’s also about you. For all the world to see. Pride will stand in the way of listening, and the actual origins of any discussion tend to ad hominem. Unless you’re just passive aggressively linking to other people’s ideas, saying “some people say,” etc.
Facebook is a fine place to share articles. But not a great place to discuss them.
3. To persuade, begin with shared assumptions
When people are angry at each other over a topic, I usually visualize the problem in my mind as two conclusions of syllogisms bolded, with all their premises struckthrough – nobody is even discussing their assumptions. It’s like complaining about a bowl of soup without realizing the main dish, appetizers, nachos, and dessert are in the other room.
That’s because shared assumptions are the basis of persuasion. When you find yourself at odds with someone, you need to go back and back in premises until you find a shared assumption. Then you build up from there. Without a shared assumption, of course the conclusion is going to mismatch. Of course you won’t be able to persuade by competing conclusions – you don’t even agree on the assumptions that get you there.
By focusing on shared assumptions, and keeping the conversation only about the FIRST step of logical divergence from the assumption (e.g. the first step of assumptions you don’t share), you will suddenly both be able to persuade AND not have to get mad. It’s pretty rational and reasonable to start from a point of shared agreement, then go one step at a time – often realizing the “real disagreement” is something much more boring and buried than your actual conclusion. Flip the assumption, flip the conclusion.
For example, my chief marketing officer and I (at statUP) were in serious disagreement about one of our product features. He thought it should be one way, I thought it should be a different way.
But that takes LISTENING. Also another thing Facebook is not strong with.
4. When it’s conversational, there’s give and take
When you have a captive audience, they have to listen while you talk. It’s easy. You’ll never know people doubted you the entire time, and can honestly be intellectually lazy because nobody is going to debate you. That’s why debate is better than individual speeches as a method of learning communication: there’s a discipline to think and research well, when you know it’s someone’s job to challenge you.
In business, Government, and probably even with your friends, if you’re REALLY going to establish something, you’re going to treat the entire conversation with more formality – perhaps even adopting some rules of order.
But in an everyday conversation, your audience is not captive. In a discussion with friends, the topic may be set but the ideas will meander around, and you can pause and go deeper on an area that merits more attention than you thought.
Facebook has made genius software that is informative, mildly conversational, but not at all structured for determining something.
5. How to get better
In this studio-produced webinar for the Leadership Institute, Nathanael Yellis and I analyze a Fox News pundit’s debating style to demonstrate how it is inherently non-persuasive, and what you can do yourself. It’s entertaining and informative. You should watch it – requires free signup of some sort.
Try debating an issue with a friend you disagree with and agree from the beginning to be willing to accept a view. Identify three areas you agree, and then work from there. You may never even get as far as the conclusion, but you will walk away saying “now we know exactly where/why we disagree” and likely will have some respect for each other.
Read this short article in NYT called “The Key to Political Persuasion,” which reports an interesting study about how terrible people are at selling ideas, even though when selling a car they understand that you emphasize what matters to the buyer, not the seller.
So rather than yelling “how can people be okay with importing terrorists?!?!” Realize that anyone you’re trying to persuade is unlikely to share your assumption that that’s what is happening. Find something you DO agree on, and perhaps through listening you’ll end up persuading. And have the patience to find a format where such an exchange is possible.